Thursday, November 25, 2010

Joy

The Mobile Press Register was quite a bit heavier today than yesterday. Some of the extra bulk can be attributed to a special 26 page section about the history of the Iron Bowl. Most of the additional weight in today’s paper was from a mountain of sales papers heralding that a new season of shopping is waiting just beyond the turkey and thankfulness.

The season of joy begins tonight with the annual convergence of Christmas decorating and Black Friday shopping. But everyone may not be so joyful. For some people the Christmas season is one of their loneliest times of the year. Other people may be struggling with reasons to be thankful today after a year of job losses, and future economic uncertainty renders the prospect of a joyful Christmas bleak. Some people simply don’t like Christmas, but we will leave the Scrooges for Mr. Dickens.

Reasons abound for people not to be happy, but there are few reasons to lack joy. The season of joy is not affected by circumstances when fully understood. Happiness varies based on our present circumstances. If you give a kid ice cream, he will be happy. If you take the ice cream away prematurely, you will inherit an unhappy child. Joy is not dependent upon circumstances. Joy is much deeper than happiness.

In Acts 13, we learn that Paul and Barnabas were run out of Antioch of Pisidia because of the offense of their gospel preaching. Paul and Barnabas were run out of most of the towns were they preached, but the end of Acts 13 says that Paul and Barnabas were “filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” Paul’s circumstances changed almost daily, but his joy was not affected. Paul was shipwrecked, beaten, cold, lonely, stoned (biblically not from narcotics) and left for dead, but he never lost his joy.

Happiness and joy are easy to distinguish.

Happiness
sweet potato pie
playing ball with my great niece
snowflakes
teaching a class
finishing a long run

Joy
the God who seeks me
the God who never lets go

I can lose my happiness, but not my joy. Did someone mention sweet potato pie? I need my energy as I start the season of joy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Getting What I Deserve

Most of us have an innate sense of fairness. We instantly recognize when someone else is getting a bigger “half” of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And we don’t like it. We even learn social norms for fairness based on our interaction with other people.

A couple of weeks ago I went to the post office to buy stamps. At the post office everyone forms a line, and a postal employee takes each customer in order. As we were waiting for our turn, a guy walked into the post office, bypassed everyone in line, and went directly to the counter. To make matters worse, he was talking on his cell phone! Our otherwise friendly line was internally converting to a lynching mob. If looks could kill, a few old ladies would soon be on trial. Fortunately, our postal employee recognized the villain and sent the man to the back of the line while pointing to a sign that said “No Cell Phones.” We were all quietly vindicated as justice was restored.

In Christian circles we have a sense of fairness about how God and our lives should go as well. Our formula is as follows:

1. Learn what God wants.
2. Do the right thing.
3. God will bless you.
4. Everybody will be happy.

But what happens when we learn what God says and do the right thing, but we don’t experience God’s blessing? Logically, we aren’t happy. Our sense of fairness is awakened. We question God’s faithfulness or we question our formula.

Perhaps we should question our concept of God’s blessing. He does not always bless us in the way that we expect. As we mature in our faith, we begin to recognize that He is faithful even if we are not seeing His promises fulfilled.

The greatest acts of faith recorded in the Bible are by people who did not see the promises of God fulfilled in their lifetime. Sometimes God has something better for us that cannot be received during our days. May God stretch our faith beyond our generation.

39These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Top Ten Easter Observations

1. Hardboiled eggs are safer to dye than raw eggs.
2. Kids love when the Easter Bunny visits, but hate visiting the Easter Bunny.
3. Kenneth (our custodian) wins the Easter egg hunt every year.
4. Smarties grow mold after a year in a plastic egg.
5. Eating an entire chocolate egg at once will produce a stomach ache.
6. Peeps cannot be imitated.
7. Pastel shirts are still pastel even though it’s Easter.
8. Gathering for Easter worship makes up for missing Christmas worship (snow).
9. Tomb is empty, but my heart is full.
10. By His wounds, I am healed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Should I Pray in Jesus’ Name?

Do you remember learning how to pray? Perhaps your parents taught you to pray before you went to bed. “God, thank you for my brother even though I don’t like him. Thank you for my dog…” Maybe your parents or Sunday school teachers also taught you to pray “in Jesus’ name.” Did you know that none of the recorded prayers in the Bible include the phrase “in Jesus’ name”? Yet we often end every prayer in Jesus’ name.

Wayne Grudem explains praying “in Jesus’ name” aptly in his work Bible Doctrine. The following excerpt is taken from page 161 of his book.

“Does this mean that it is wrong to add ‘in Jesus’ name’ to the end of our prayers? It is certainly not wrong, as long as we understand what is meant by it and that it is not necessary to do so. There may be some danger, however, if we add this phrase to every public or private prayer we make, for very soon it will become to people simply a formula to which they attach very little meaning and say without thinking about it. It may even begin to be viewed, at least by younger believers, as sort of a magic formula that makes prayer more effective. To prevent such misunderstanding, it would probably be wise to decide not to use the formula frequently and to express the same thought in other words or simply in the overall attitude of and approach we take toward prayer. For example, prayers could begin, ‘Father, we come to you in the authority of our Lord Jesus, your son…’ or, ‘Father, we do not come on our own merits but on the merits of Jesus Christ, who has invited us to come before you…’ or, ‘Father, we thank you for forgiving our sins and giving us access to your throne by the work of Jesus your Son…’ At other times even these formal acknowledgments should not be thought necessary, so long as our hearts continually realize that it is our Savior who enables us to pray to the Father at all. Genuine prayer is conversation with a person whom we know well and who knows us. Such genuine conversation between persons who know each other never depends on the use of certain formulas or required words, but is a matter of sincerity in our speech and in our heart, a matter of right attitudes, and a matter of the condition of our spirit.”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Snow Days

Before the age of seventeen, I only remember having one snow day in south Alabama. Weather forecasters predicted a dusting to one inch of snow, which led to a shopping frenzy across the whole county. Woodsheds were emptied. Tractors were summoned. Milk and bread were secured, and dogs were allowed on the porch.

On the snow day we received a record two inches of snow! The entire county came to a sliding halt. School was cancelled, and my sister and I celebrated by building a ten inch snowman.

Since that time I have encountered ice storms in Florida, over two foot blizzards in Indiana with blowing snow, and mountain snow in Virginia. Every area has one thing in common – winter weather interrupts our normal plans in a magnificent way. Schools close. Churches close. Even malls close. Gatherings get cancelled. Rulers get tested. Neighbors meet over snow shovels and become amateur meteorologists. And everyone is acutely aware that we are not the ones who are in control of this world.

God gets our attention. We learn to worship at home again. We count our blessings. We become thankful that we made it home safely. We open our curtains to see the snow and notice the birds in the trees. We remember that God meets our needs, and He alone is sovereign over His world. We slow down long enough to hear from God. We dream again, and we hope that snow days don’t have to be made up.

Today, I still have almost ten inches of snow on the ground, and it’s snowing as I write. I had plans today. Now, I will wait and listen.

“Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 (NIV)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Stupid Things People Do

Throughout history men and women both have done some pretty stupid things. Have you heard the story about a woman named Maggie who went to the shopping mall and spent an entire year’s salary in one afternoon? She went to the bank one morning and cashed in her IRA, and went shopping that afternoon for one item. She came home with a bag, and she put the gift away in a freezer in the basement.

Several weeks later Maggie’s family had a big party to show their appreciation to a neighbor, Josh, who had rescued their cat, Simone, from an apple tree in his backyard. Simone was a beautiful Persian cat with a bubbly personality. The whole family was greatly appreciative of Josh’s heroic efforts. About halfway through the party, Maggie disappeared into the hallway and emerged with a beautifully wrapped present for Josh. Everyone paused as Maggie presented Josh with this spectacular package. Josh opened the gift and revealed a frozen haute chocolate.

Maggie’s cousin, Jude, who was a wealthy food connoisseur, immediately began describing the desert. A frozen haute chocolate is a delectable dessert made from exclusive cocoas from around the world and 5 grams of 24 carat edible gold topped with whipped cream. Jude was shocked that Maggie could be so wasteful, and he revealed the staggering cost of the dessert – $25,000! Can you imagine someone being so irresponsible?

Well, maybe that wasn’t exactly the story I read this morning, but it was close. The story I read was about a woman who anointed Jesus with very expensive perfume during a party one night. Everyone was shocked at how careless the woman had been with such an expensive gift. They waited for Jesus to scold her for wasting a gift that could have fed 50,000 people! Instead, Jesus recognized the woman’s heartfelt devotion and act of worship. He applauded her generosity toward Him.

The story about Maggie was fictional and ridiculous. The story about Jesus being anointed with expensive perfume is true yet equally illogical. I was reminded by the story of Jesus being anointed that there is a time to turn off the calculator. There is a time to abandon my logic. There is a time for extravagant worship that expresses my devotion to my King. There is a time to care less about what others think and more about what God thinks.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Isaiah 55:8